Lloyd Cole, Broken Record (Tapete)

by Russ Coffey

You could be mistaken for assuming that Lloyd Cole’s new album was just for the money. After all, what has he done since his Eighties’ hits? Developed a drug habit? Become a hermit? Blown all his royalties? In fact none of the above. He never did leave music, he simply relocated to the States and quietly built up a back catalogue of low-key, subtle and lyrically sophisticated music.

Gone are the big melodies and infectious arrangements, but yet it all seems appropriate for a man of his age. On this, his ninth solo studio album he affects a kind of understated Americana that frequently sits improbably somewhere between Jacob Dylan’s and Bonnie Prince Billy’s recent excursions. Cole’s sure got the voice for this kind of mournful reflective country, but it’s really the words that make this album live. One problem with the Cole of old was that his lyrics often tried too hard. He would try to impress you with his learning. But songs like “Broken Record” are just full of simple, accurate observations of little moments that illuminate the complexity of love and life. He has a great ear for detail, the private monologues, and the important conversations. In the pretty “Why in the World?” Cole talks to a girlfriend about lost optimism and vitality, “Maybe I’m all dried up inside/Maybe I’m not built for these times/Maybe I don’t know how to live”. And in another musical highlight, “The Flipside” he describes a moment of unexpected contentedness, “And in the last remaining moments/before the sunlight sends us home/We’ll hear the flipside of That Gentle Melancholy Feeling.” There’s upbeat too. “Westchester County Jail” swaggers with a country swing, and “Rhinestones”, with its “wasn’t looking for troubles/just a lazy eye,” is pure Johnny Cash.

The presence of a full band on this album, the first time in over a decade, breathes life into the songs. The production on Cole’s last outing, 2006’s Antidepressant, sounded thin and incomplete. But here, Cole has not only assembled a very effective group of collaborators (including Joan Wasser aka Joan as Police Woman) but also found a sound that is perfectly matched to his voice and ideas. Harmonies counterbalance Cole’s lugubrious baritone, banjos usher in sunshine, and the rhythm section gives everything a sense of purpose. And although the record is still mainly ruminative it’s good to hear Cole the optimist get the last word, “How am I going to deal with double despair/Double happiness!”

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Publication: The Arts Desk

Publication date: 01/10/10